To paraphrase a man much wiser than I, one comes to like a movie for its virtues and comes to love a movie for its flaws. This list is about the latter category.
To be clear, the usual “best of” criteria (creativity, effort, technical skill, etc.) all play a part in this list. However, this list is special because it has a unique factor that’s considered above all else: FUN! These are the films that made me laugh, made me jump, made me cheer, and made me glad to be a movie fan. This is my absolute favorite list of the year to compile, The Wild Rides.
It’s a damn shame this film wasn’t released in October. This Halloween season was a terribly weak month for horror cinema, and it really could have used this old-fashioned ghost story. The atmosphere is superb, Daniel Radcliffe — though he might have been a touch young for the role — is really coming into his own, and the horror contains the best jump scares I’ve ever seen. The film may not have been burdened with much ambition or creativity, but it was content to be a simple campfire story and met its goal exceedingly well.
This was very nearly another film that got lost between categories, but I couldn’t bear letting that happen to this underrated, underseen, blessedly creative little gem. I ultimately decided to call this film a “Wild Ride” due to its wonderful humor, its endearingly unique charm, and its unfailing optimism. Just the thought of this film is enough to bring a smile to my face. If you haven’t seen this one, you seriously don’t know what you’re missing.
There’s really no other way to adequately describe this movie except “Holy fucking shit!” I could go on and on describing all the various weapons and fighting styles, in addition to all of the various ways that so many body parts get totally shattered, but I think those three little words perfectly sum it all up. The story may have been simplistic and cliched, but that just adds to the film’s effectiveness as a kung-fu thrill ride.
7. Tai Chi Zero
I thought about making this a tied entry with The Raid, since they’re both fast and shallow kung-fu spectaculars. However, this film gets bumped up a rank because it has so much more going for it. Both movies have simplistic stories and fantastic fight sequences, but this one is quite literally bursting at the seams with creativity. This film is bright, colorful, and self-aware in a goofy kind of way, all of which (in my opinion) set it above the grim and gritty Raid. Additionally, I don’t care how much action talent went into The Raid, practically every single actor in this film is a world-class martial arts expert and it really fucking shows.
And lest we forget, it’s steampunk versus kung-fu!
I won’t pretend that either of these films are perfect, but they damn sure deserved better than Hollywood and the moviegoing public could give them. These films are both examples of science-fiction escapism at its finest, due in no small part to the spectacular production design and effects work that successfully brought whole living and breathing worlds to the screen. That isn’t even getting started on the jaw-dropping action scenes to be found in both. These films may have had their screenplay flaws, but I can’t stop commending them for making me feel like I actually went soaring around the fields of Barsoom and fighting my way through a tower at Mega-City One.
(Side note: If push came to shove, I’d give Dredd the edge for doing more with less and refusing to compromise the brutality on display. Call it #5.5, I guess.)
Oh, how the four-year wait was worth it. Daniel Craig proved himself a badass yet again and Judi Dench put M through her paces like never before, all while Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw proved themselves as worthy new additions to the series cast. I wasn’t particularly a fan of Javier Bardem’s villain, but I certainly can’t deny that he was a lot of fun to watch. Most importantly, the film’s stunts and action sequences were all exquisite, especially through the lens of maestro Roger Deakins. In all honesty, that huge explosion at the climax would have been enough to warrant a spot on this list all by itself.
4. The FP
I don’t think I ever laughed harder all year than I did while watching this picture. This is a film that proudly wears its flaws on its sleeve in the name of outrageously ridiculous entertainment. The very premise of a Rocky IV-style film about post-apocalyptic street gangs who compete in lethal DDR tournaments is just exquisitely batshit. The screenplay alone is a work of comedic genius, with profanities, catchphrases, and “futuristic” faux-gangsta slang that are so off-the-wall it’s hilarious. Plus, the actors all do such an admirable job of playing it straight that it makes the whole thing more adorably fun. Though I certainly wouldn’t call it a good film, I would call it a masterpiece of “so-bad-its-good” cinema.
Every time I thought about ranking a film higher than this one, I asked a simple question: “Does the other film show a man being gored through the chest by a unicorn?”
The amount of effort and creativity that went into this film is simply mind-boggling. It’s impossible to describe this multi-layered plot to newcomers, but the process of discovering that story is such a huge part of what makes it great. Of course, the film’s whip-smart humor and unbelievably good special effects help a great deal as well. Most importantly, the movie serves as a very damning statement of how formulaic and masturbatory horror films have come, all while celebrating the wonder and catharsis that define the genre at its best. The film is intellectual, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s action-packed… it’s just really damned good.
What could possibly top a man being gored through the chest by a unicorn? Well, how about an alien time machine made out of a giant stuffed bear?
I would need to start taking illegal drugs to have so much fun getting my brain so utterly fried. “Bugfuck crazy” could not begin to describe this uber-meta hodgepodge of pop culture and ’90s nostalgia wrapped in so much hilarity and awesome. The jokes, references, and fiendishly clever plot twists come at such a breakneck pace that the film never gives its audience a chance to complain about the disjointed plot or the defiant lack of logic. God bless Joseph Kahn and his utterly demented mind for blessing us with this genius work of art.
Do I even need to defend this as my #1 choice for the most entertaining film of the year? The jokes were all laugh-out-loud hilarious. The action was incredible. The characters were all badasses. The special effects were awesome. The score was jaw-dropping. Joss Whedon’s screenplay and direction were superb. Aside from a couple of nagging plot nitpicks, absolutely everything about this film worked.
Of all the year’s most highly-anticipated films, this was one of the rare few that actually lived up to its hype. The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit might have left filmgoers with mixed feelings, but this film positively soared over its sky-high expectations.
As for the films that weren’t so lucky at meeting their potential… well, just tune in tomorrow.